VALE ROYAL: FRODSHAM "WHITE GATE" PARISH, MIDDLEWICH

" William the Conqueror's brother: Hugh Lupus and his wife Ermentrude gave the tithes of Frodsham to St. Werburgh's Abbey before 1093.

Domesday Survey of 1086 – Frod’s village, held by the Earl of Mercia.

Ranulph de Blundaville, The Norman Earl of Chester, marked a shift in settlement to an area lower down by the marshlands when he founded the town as a free Borough in approximately 1230.

It was long held under the Crown by the Frodshams, who resided at Frodsham Castle.  Their line became extinct in the male line in 1766. 

Vale Royal Abbey dates back to the 13th century when it was founded by Prince Edward, the future King Edward I. The building is steeped in history, and the key historical events are captured here:

1263 – Prince Edward, the future King Edward I, was undertaking a sea voyage from France when his ship was caught in a terrible storm. He made a vow that if he came safe to land he would found an Abbey of unprecedented size and grandeur as a thanksgiving to God for saving him.

1266 – negotiations were in hand for the establishment of a monastery of Cistercian monks in the secluded location of Darnhall in Cheshire.

1274 – preparation of the site of Edward’s new Abbey would begin with the arrival of the first monks, lead by Abbot John Chaumpeneys, from Dore Abbey.

1276 – the site of the new Abbey provoked anger, resentment and strong resistance from the people of the area, and the Darnhall site itself was found to be unsuitable for the huge buildings planned. Edward, by now King, agreed to move the Abbey to a more suitable site and a location was chosen in nearby Over, which was henceforth known as Vale Royal.

1277 – the King and Queen and numerous great nobles arrived at Over to lay the foundation stones of the new Abbey. "Manor Hccamo" became vested in the Crown and granted for life by King Edward I, as Earl of Chester; to David;  the brother of Llewellyn, King of Wales in 1279.

1290s – work stopped for at least a decade, and was only resumed on a much reduced scale to the original plans.

The market town of Vale Royal and local industry continued to flourish until the mid 14th century when the Black Death halted expansion.

1330s – the monks had managed to complete the east end of the church (the rest remained a shell) and sufficient of the cloister buildings to make the place habitable, though far from complete.

1350s – Edward the Black Prince took an interest in completing the Abbey and donated substantial funds to the job. Work began on completing the shell of the nave and making the east end even grander.

1360 – a hurricane swept across Cheshire in October and brought the arcades of the unfinished nave crashing down in ruins. It was subsequently agreed under the patronage of Richard II to finish the Abbey on a much reduced scale from what was originally planned.

1439 – the Abbey was taken under Royal supervision.

1538 – the process of dissolution at Vale Royal began by Thomas Holcroft, one of the King’s commissioners.

1539 – Thomas Holcroft demolished the church, telling King Henry in a letter that it was “plucked down”.

1544 – King Henry confirmed Holcroft as the new owner by granting him the Abbey and a great deal of its estates for the sum of £450.1545 Richard Brooke purchased the Manor of Norton and the site of the Abbey.

1565  Whitegate  of Frodsham Deanery or Middlewich was made a Parish during the reign on King Henry VIII.  The Church stood near the gate of the Monastery of Vale Royal and had been made a parochial by the authority of the Pope's Bull, at an early period for the convenience of the inhabitants of the demensne of the Abbey..  It was called "Church of our Blessed Lady the Virgin of Whitegate". Also known as St Mary's Whitegate, once the gate chapel of Vale Royal Abbey, provided by the monks to serve travelers. Vale Royal escaped being dissolved under the terms of the First Suppression Act, King Henry VIII's initial move in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

1615 -Thomas Holcroft' apparently forged and presented it to Thomas Cromwell and the courts. His heirs lived at Vale Royal until 1615, when the abbey came into the hands of the Cholmondeley (pronounced "Chumley") family (subsequently Lords Delamere). The widowed Lady Mary Cholmondeley (1562-1625), a powerful woman with extensive properties in the area, bought the abbey as a home for herself when her eldest son inherited the primary family estates at Cholmondeley

1617 – Lady Cholmondeley entertained James I to a stag hunting party at Vale Royal. The King enjoyed himself so much that he gave knighthoods to two members of the family. Mary Holford Cholmondeley was the widow of Sir Hugh Cholmondeley.

1625 – at Lady Mary Cholmondeley’s death she passed the Abbey and estate on to her fourth son, Thomas, who founded the Vale Royal branch of the family.

1907 – Vale Royal was rented out to Robert Dempster, a wealthy stockbroker from Manchester.

1934 – another Cholmondeley, Thomas, 4th Lord Delamere, moved in to the Abbey, only to be forced out in 1939 when the government took over Vale Royal to serve as a sanatorium for soldiers of World War II.

1947 – the Cholmondeleys sold the Abbey to ICI. The chemical company initially used the Abbey as staff accommodation and then, from 1954 to 1961, as the headquarters for its Alkali Division.

1961 – ICI moved out and for some years the future of Vale Royal was in doubt. There were abortive schemes to use the Abbey as a health centre, a country club, a school and even a prison (this latter proposal was resisted by local inhabitants as strongly, though less violently, as the original foundation of the Abbey had been, and did not happen!)

1977 – the Abbey was made into a residential care home for people with learning difficulties.

1998 – Vale Royal Abbey officially reopened as the venue we know today.

Present Day– Nothing remains of the great church, though archaeological work has revealed many details of its structure. A stone circular monument, known as the 'Nun's Grave', traditionally commemorates a fourteenth century Cheshire nun, Ida, who tended a sick Vale Royal abbot, and on her death was buried at the site of the high altar

Adam' Bostock (b 1270) brother:  Ralph de Bostock (b 1272), served the Abbot of Vale Royal as his seneschal (steward of the manor and household responsible for legal and domestic administration). He was no doubt a busy man for during the first half of the 14th century the peasants living and working on the abbey estates rebelled against the abbot's authority and there were many bloody feuds. Ralph lived in Moulton and founded a family that  lived there for many centuries."

Please see my SOURCE list at the end of my main web page. 

Posted by : Wanda Bostic Dunlap, Oct 2009

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